Ideas For Lobby Renovations

Lobby design in many buildings has evolved from pass-through spaces to areas where occupants sit and stay a while.

By Jessica Butler

In recent years, the design of commercial building lobbies has enjoyed a steady evolution. Many have made a transformation from museum-like, pass-through spaces to more hospitality and experience focused spaces with unique and innovative features to engage both tenants and visitors. This change is directly in response to the market’s demand. Companies looking for space want an experience from “street to suite.” As their office spaces are now recruitment and retention tools, the building they select also reflects them and their culture. To remain relevant and competitive, building owners and developers need to stay up to date on the trends.

New Amenities In Lobby Design

In lobby design, ware seeing a lot of soft seating and hospitality-like areas with coffee bar amenities either in the lobby space or directly adjacent to them with easy access. And there’s Wi-Fi connectivity throughout. Some lobbies have become gathering places where building management may feature large screens to project sports games or current events for their building tenants to enjoy. With this collaborative soft seating, lobbies are now a “third space” for people to escape from their offices and have another area to be productive or take a break.

lobby design
After a renovation, the lobby at 600 California St. in San Francisco

Multi-tenant buildings want to be more neutral in feel to appeal to a lot of people at once — more timeless. Whereas, the single-user buildings may utilize their entry space to express their brand and who they are — these tend to be more playful and colorful in nature as a display of corporate character.

Additionally, everybody wants amenities like a roof deck and to activate the ground floor lobby, as well as plazas adjacent to the lobby. They each want a unique look and feel since they are competing for tenants. They want artwork and custom lighting — things that will set their property apart.

For example, with the 600 California St. (in San Francisco) building lobby renovation, the owner had a limited budget but wanted to make a big impact. In this case, custom artwork and thoughtful furniture selection made the space far more impactful and usable than it was before. The art is central to the lobby design. It is a stunning and clever depiction of iconic San Francisco landmarks that tell a story that is uniquely identifiable to inhabitants.

The lobby also features intimate seating pockets and a larger communal table for multiple people to gather around. This flexibility allows for better utilization versus a museum-like space with only one purpose. Because we are all different people with varied tastes, design has to be flexible. Design for public spaces must cater to many types of individuals.

Appealing To The Modern Tenant

Technology is certainly contributing to this creation of the “third place” in lobbies. Wi-Fi connectivity and wide screens create a different atmosphere in the business world. Some owners employ color changing lights to vary the mood of the space at different times of the day/year for special events or holidays.

lobby design
Lobby at 600 California St. in San Francisco

The modern tenant has an entrepreneurial, do-it-yourself personality. With wide access to design through a host of online design sites like West Elm and Home Polish, design is now more affordable and accessible than ever before. And they appreciate good design. They have a style of furniture in their home and they want it in the workplace too. They view their workplace as a home away from home, hence the growing trend of “resimercial” design.

Staying Competitive In The Market

You stay competitive by really understanding the building owners’ ideal tenants, who is in the market and who they want to attract. For example, you take a separate approach for established financial firms versus tech start-ups. Or, if you want a blend of both, your lobby might say something completely unique and different.

What we see next are possibly more coffee bars or after-hours amenities. Many people are working past 6:00 or 7:00 PM. We’ll see more of a focus on keeping the lobby active throughout the day and making it look and feel less like an office and more residential. We’ll also see more customized building identities versus broad ownership identities. For some owners, none of their buildings will ever look identical.

Lobbies are no longer just an entrance to the building. They are a chance to convey a first impression and to give a feel for the space as a whole. Once users and visitors enter off the street, lobbies are becoming more and more of a usable space throughout the day and design should reflect these changing needs and uses.

lobby design

With more than 10 years of professional experience, Butler is director of interior design at FORGE, a leading 37-person architecture and interior design firm based in San Francisco, CA. In 2014 she joined the firm and has since delivered multiple complex projects, with a focus on the design of creative interiors that reflect the client’s culture and brand. Her clients include commercial real estate companies, as well as prominent technology firms and startups. She has led the design of high-performance workspaces for number of tenant projects and landlord clients including Hudson Pacific Properties, Dropbox, CellMark, Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, Northwestern Mutual Insurance and Paramount Group. She is also an active member of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) of Northern California.